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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Garth Williams it ain't

I haven't had a chance to do any streetscapes lately, and I'll tell ya. I'm just itching. In the meantime, I dug around for some photos I shot for the purpose of making drawings. The photo ref for this one dates back to fall, when the roses still clung stubbornly to their stems and Twee - he of the piggy love - spread himself out to create what I'm sure he thought was a stunning tableau. He was right. I particularly enjoyed the one stretched-out paw. I think it's for balance, actually, since the other one, curled beneath him, probably set him listing.

It often happens with photos I take for future reference that once I have them I don't feel like drawing from them. In this case, it seemed like good practice, since cats remain oddly difficult for me to draw. I found myself wondering whether the gods of art decided that the world already had enough in the way of cute animal renderings, thank you, and didn't want to encourage me in that direction. Obviously I don't know good advice when I hear it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A small celebration

I'm not sure what I thought I was doing last year on February 27, when I opened this blog and posted, maybe a little shyly, my first sketches. It seemed to be a way to communicate with the Everyday Matters online forum, which was a step into a world I couldn't have imagined until then. I was, at the time, feeling a bit desperate for creative expression, and probably thought I'd do a kind of writing here, too, that I haven't done.

Which is all right.

I'll admit I don't participate in the EDM group so much these days, yet I stay in touch with a few of my favorite artists from that space. What's been interesting for me (and maybe occasionally for you) is to see how the pictures develop and how the words do or don't go with them. It's been strange to feel a tug of responsibility -- to have a sense that it's been a while since I showed up here, and that showing up is sort of the point.

It's been fascinating, after 20 years in publishing, to meet "publishing" in such an intimate way. Statcounter lets me see how many people either care enough to stop in everyday or accidentally land here. The numbers are small: way smaller than anything I was taught to respect in newspapering. And yet when I draw for the blog (and I do), when I write what I write, it's the same feeling as if I were writing for 500,000 people. Which is kind of cool. I used to think that writing for one person was about the same as writing for a bunch, as long as what I wrote mattered in some way. Now I'm sure that's true -- though I'm far from sure that everything I write matters.

What does matter is that the blog has kept me filling sketchbooks, which was something I'd wanted to be doing for a long time. My engine turns and turns over. For a year, this space has kept me moving. So there. Happy birthday to Pen in Hand, if I do say so myself. And please -- have a Ho Ho. You only live once.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I reported my sketchbook missing in my last post. Well, I reported it mislaid. It was sure to turn up. It would turn up when I wasn't even looking for it, I knew.
But time went by and while I was busy not looking for it, it was busy not turning up.
So I looked. It would be on the nightstand, buried in the pile of books. Certainly it would. Only it wasn't. Nor was it in the pile of newspapers that had been haphazardly gathered up during a neatening crusade. Nor was it in one of the drawers where one of us might quickly stash something to put it out of sight. Which meant, of course, that it absolutely had to be in the bag I tote back and forth to work. Or on my desk at work. One of those. It had to be there. But it wasn't.
After looking in all the logical places once, thoroughly, I decided this might not be one of those times when the mislaid object turns up while you're not looking for it.

So I looked again in all of those same places. After all, I wasn't really looking HARD while I was looking thoroughly. Its pretty slim. I probably looked right past it. It was sure to turn up. It wasn't lost. Something is "lost" after a person has looked in absolutely every possible place the object could logically be, and still doesn't find it. Which of course I didn't.

It was time to admit that my sketchbook was lost. When I admitted it, I remembered the last time we moved. I packed a collection of Russian lacquer boxes and the Raggedy Ann doll my great-aunt had made for me when I was 10 in an rickety old suitcase I'd bought at a secondhand shop for its "character." It was the perfect thing to lose if you're looking to max out both versions of material loss - the expensive kind and the sentimental kind. The Russian boxes had been acquired slowly and at some expense. The doll -- well, it's obvious. Somehow, the character-filled suitcase and its contents did not make it from the old house to the new house. That didn't stop me from looking for it, at all hours and at odd times, off and on for two years. I never knew how much I loved the boxes or the doll until they were gone, of course (such a cliche). The yearning was palpable.

With dread, it occurred to me that the sketches in the sketchbook would suddenly become terribly important to me. I pictured myself waking at 2 in the morning to revisit all the places I'd looked a dozen times before. I fretted about the lost chronology in my sketchbook collection -- "January/February 2007: The missing months."

Carlo stopped me as I looked through a pile of books for the third time. "Did you find it?" he asked.
"No," I said, in that slightly petulant tone of voice that implies that someone else is probably at fault. "That's it. It's gone."
"Oh," he said. "Did you look in your car?"
"Yes, it's not there," I replied. And yet I hadn't. It was an odd reflex, to tell him I'd looked there, but I definitely had not. "Wait a minute."

Within about 12 seconds, I found the book lying wedged between the console and the passenger seat. I brought it inside, and eventually I drew the corner of our kitchen where we keep a large collection of coffee, which I like well enough but which I would eagerly trade for a suitcase full of Russian boxes and a Raggedy Ann.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vulnerabilities in the infrastracture

You might remember last month when I posted a page about Smedley, the food-anxiety goblin. He's been on my mind lately as a foe to be slain, once and for all, but I thought I'd tell you a little bit more about the vulnerabilities in the infrastructure, so to speak. Smedly gets in through windows of fatigue and boredom and . . . well, you'll see. (Incidentally, I HAD to throw a piece of jewelry on this page, and it is not as random as it seems. My friend Andrea and I often remark about jewelry we love that, well, the best of it makes you want to eat it. Though so far, we just wear it.)

Incidentally, I managed to misplace one of the three sketchbooks I have going right now. If you see it, please holler. Have you ever misplaced a sketchbook? Did it make you crazy?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Antidote for gray

One day this week I sent an email to a work friend who I know has suffered episodes of depression and said something like this: "We've arrived at that time of year when I pretty much wanna kill myself. Does this sound familiar?"
She wrote back, "Yes. You have Seasonal Affective Disorder. We need to get you a full-spectrum light. I will look them up on the web."
Which she didn't. At least not yet. And that's fine, since I, too, have internet access (as you can see). Furthermore, I sent her the email simply to reach out to a kindred spirit in my darkness -- which, all things considered, isn't that dark.
I've been really black-of-constitution, but not for a long time.
No, this is just the kind of gray you get on a dirty watercolor palette. It's definitely a response to the onset of a real Ohio winter, complete with snow that is taller than most of the shortest dogs in the neighborhood, including mine. The bitch of it is that the muddy-palette mood refuses to lift. It was impervious even to Valentine's chocolates. I think it is combining with midlife hormone fluctuations, and making me very, very grumpy and short-tempered and hyper-critical. It is very possible that if you cross paths with me right now, you will do something utterly benign and I will judge it harshly. It is almost an out-of-body experience, watching myself become Attila the Hun. Please don't take it personally.

But then tonight I decided it would be worthwhile to do a little pen-and-wash drawing of the potted hyacinths someone recently gave me, since they are flopping over and I kind of liked the flop. And it was about that time that my older daughter started singing a phrase from the song "Breakfast in America" by Supertramp, but she got stuck. She was surprised when I finished the phrase for her.

"How do you know that?" she asked.
"Because it's been around since 1978 or something," I said.

She was stunned. She said, "That's 'Cupid's Chokehold.' "
I said, "It's 'Breakfast in America.' "
We each got our respective iPods - is this a 2007 story or what? - and I played for her "Breakfast in America," which was a ridiculously meaningful record to me a long time ago, and she played for me "Cupid's Chokehold" by the Gym Class Heroes, which does an extensive riff on "Breakfast in America," and we each thought that our respective versions were better than the other's.

And then she left, and I put on the whole Supertramp record (on the iPod, of course), and thought about someone I used to love, which made me mostly happy. And then I listened to other throwback music, including really early Neil Diamond, which evokes some wonderfully pleasant memories of being a little sister in a houseful of boys listening to cool music.

And I drew the hyacinth. Part of me studied the shape of the blossoms and the other part of me fell back in time. Too much nostalgia is dangerous, but a little, at moments when you're Vitamin D-starved and seratonin-thirsty, is just fine.
And I thought: This is almost better than a light box. I may wear headphones until April.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Heeere, Piggy-Piggy

It was a shock to me the first time I came upon our neutered cat Twee, years ago, in what looked like carnal clinch with a gigantic stuffed lion in my daughter's room. I averted my eyes as soon as possible, and we did not speak of it again.

Last week, daughter K noticed that her stuffed pig moved from one side of her bedroom (on the floor, of course, because where else should these things be left?) to the other. The next day the pig was near the door. Days later the pig was in the hallway, and then I heard my husband calling me to see that which we had not wanted to believe: Twee in full mount of the pig.

The pig has moved all around the house this week of its own accord. Well, you know. It has gone from upstairs to downstairs. It has been found legs up, in what C has determined is the aftermath of some missionary coupling, under the dining room table. For a while, I put the pig up on a table, supposedly out of reach. But I brought it down today and placed it on a coffee table, so I could draw it - honor her, as it were.

Predictably, the beast showed up again, grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, tossed her on the floor and . . . well . . . (shiver).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Countless Weirdness

I was tagged by Suzanne, a wonderful illustrator,to name six weird things about myself. Somewhere between reading hers and doing my own, I inadvertantly switched the number (in my head) to five. Believe me, I would have no trouble coming up with six - or 600 - weird things about me. That said, here are five. Click on the image to read them better.

Meanwhile, I put out the challenge for:

Maureen McHugh
Don West at Idle Minutes and
Lucette at My Novel on Toast

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Love and odd numbers

At V-minus-7 and counting (do you know where your sweetie is?) I've decided that a mini-series on Love would be fun. And so we begin with a sorta-love story from childhood.
Sixth grade, to be specific. I wonder how many people began their love careers in sixth grade, never knowing what on earth was in store for them.

For me, what was in store was a new school and two new friends. One we'll call Mark (since his name was Mark). He arrived from one of the three elementary schools that fed into the middle school I now called home. He had wavy blond hair, and more importantly he was nice. Nice to everyone, from what I could tell, and that seemed a rare enough quality. But he was especially nice to me in what seemed like a sixth-grade-flirtation kind of a way. He was in one or two of my classes, but of course now we were in a school where we switched classes every period, so that meant there were also maybe 5 periods a day where he was NOT in my class.

My other new friend was Shelley, who moved into our neighborhood. We began walking to school together. It was not 10 miles in the snow uphill both ways, but it was a good distance. Maybe a mile and a half, which for sixth-grade feet seemed like a long way. Shelley and I became fast friends. I haven't seen her in decades, but I can still call her voice immediately to mind. Did I mention she was very pretty? Taller than any of the other girls, with curly dark hair and gigantic brown eyes. She was the first person I knew who curled her eyelashes. Her mother had the body of a model. Her father looked like Jim Croce. I thought they were cool.
We were talking one day (on the way to school, probably, though in truth I can't remember). This being sixth grade, we were talking about boys. Mark's name came up. Isn't Mark nice, I wondered. Shelley agreed he was nice. He was in some of HER classes, too. She thought that perhaps he was flirting with her.
In time, it became evident that he was flirting with each of us, independently, and unaware (at first) that we were friends. This flirting took place mostly via the passing of notes.

It turned out that Mark was thinking of "going with" one of us. (Aside: "Going with," in sixth grade, is the most relative of terms, because, after all, we couldn't drive. So the "going" part was really completely theoretical. And yet so optimistic. If you are in sixth grade and you are Going With a guy, it means you expect you will Go With him long enough that one of you will eventually secure a license of some sort and you will eventually go somewhere together.)

For days, maybe longer, Shelley and I agonized while Mark decided which of us he wanted to Go With: the tall, pretty brunette with the curled eyelashes or the less-tall, dirty-blond with freckles? We wondered about our friendship. We worried about what it all would mean. How would the winner handle her success? How would the loser handle her pain?

You will be stunned to learn that Mark emerged from his self-study and decided to Go With the tall, dark-haired beauty. He passed a note to me about it in class one day. I think he expressed some hope that I would understand, which of course I did. (Thus began a long Love Career of me understanding, I tell you. I got SOOOO good at understanding.) Shelley got her own version of a note, which included a silver-tone ring of some sort to symbolize their Going Withness.

I worked very hard not to hold it against Shelley that she had won the contest. We continued to walk to school together. She shared some of the details of their relationship. It was less interesting than I expected it to be. There was definitely less physical contact than I expected there to be. And yet, I cannot lie: I hated being the wheel that wobbled and fell off. Elegantly as I imagined myself having handled things, I did not understand a world in which one could get the goodies like long curly dark hair and big brown eyelashes and ALSO get the Going With Mark. This is not what happened in the movies. Wasn't the underdog supposed to prevail?

Their sixth grade romance was very short lived. The upside of never going anywhere with the person you are Going With is that you are free to go anywhere, really, with anyone else. It's possible that Mark began passing notes to other girls, who were in the classes with him that neither Shelley nor I occupied. He remained nice to both of us. (He remained nice always, as far as I knew, and last I saw him, at our 10-year high school reunion, he had married a perfectly fine girl who was not as pretty as Shelley but apparently had a good recipe for Hungarian goulash, which he promised to send me and didn't.)

All in all, though, I truthfully look back on that episode and wonder - as mild and short-lived and elegantly handled as my agony was - how life would have been different if my first experience with what passes for love had been less triangular, and more of straight line between two sixth-grade hearts.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


I purloined the workplace amaryllis, just for the weekend, for obvious reasons. The bluish shadow on the white paper is a function of the scan, by the way. Scanning from a sketchbook, which is dimensional and therefore keeps the scanner lid from closing tightly, seldom produces perfect results. But gosh, this flower is a beauty. I had to stake it to a wooden spoon when I got it home, because it had become so top-heavy. Makes me happy just to look at it.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


He liked to laugh. And he was pretty good at telling jokes. I don't think I ever heard him fail the punchline.
He was generous, and he enjoyed watching someone open up a gift he'd thought a lot about.
He used to buy her great clothes, and he was so proud of her that I think maybe there was nothing he liked more than when she'd have a new dress or something he'd bought that looked beautiful on her. He didn't really need help at that, either - at least not that I knew. He wasn't one of those men who would have said to a sales clerk, "Well, I don't know, I guess she's about your size." He knew what size she was, and what was likely to work and what wasn't.

One of the family stories had to do with him driving from where we lived on the west side to the far east side just before Christmas, during a blizzard, to pick up a fur coat he'd bought her as a gift. (No, I wouldn't wear a fur coat, but this was before the paint-tossers raised everyone's consciousness, so don't even go there, OK?) He took my brother G. It took them hours and hours and hours. They came home looking like they'd been to the South Pole and back, but they had the coat - which she wore, winter in and winter out, for the rest of her years.

Everything that makes me a good employee (and I am), I learned from him, though I didn't know I was learning it at the time. He also conveyed a way of thinking through something logically that has served his children well.

There was, of course, not much father-child bonding during my growing up, which may be why I remember so clearly this one time when the two of us did something together. Not that it was a big thing, but one weekend I went with him when he drove my brother back to college. It was a five-hour trip each way. I can't remember why I went, but I did. We were perhaps a half-hour from home when I asked for a bathroom break. I really, really needed a break, but there was no good place to stop. I remember him driving like crazy and basically telling me to hang on, while he tried to get home as fast as possible. Isn't that a dumb thing to remember? But when I reach back for a story about him at his best, I remember that instead of him being impatient with the little kid who needed a bathroom break, he was just driving like hell, trying to get me home.

He had a lot of heart, and a lot of love, and it takes work sometimes to remember that it was in there, and too often trapped by eccentricities of his personality that I sometimes see in myself. Once or twice, apropos of nothing, she said to me, almost fiercely, "You're more like him than you think." And I would think, "I know, I know." She was lighter of heart, sunnier of disposition, but his feelings ran deep down.

It reassured me, in times of doubt, to remember that he was the one who liked having a dog; he was the one who said, after our dog was gone, that he'd like another one some day. She was easier to get along with, but he was the one who loved the dog and missed the dog and probably needed a dog for all the reasons that we complicated, difficult people love dogs: because they don't mind that we're complicated and difficult.

This is not the best drawing of him, but then it is not the worst. It was made from a photograph taken in the 80s, I think. An open-mouth smile rarely becomes a great freeze-frame, but it was a nice picture to look at for as long as i had to look at it. He was smiling, and she was in the background, smiling, too. They loved each other, and they also liked each other a great deal, and in that way they taught me a few things, too.